Pizza and a Cup of Tea

Sweden, a land of great sophistication, has a rather difficult time incorporating simple concepts of foreign cuisine. The two that spring most readily to mind, as you may already have guessed, you observant reader you, are pizza and tea.

Figure 1: Before the taking of a toast and tea

Let’s start with the pizza. Swedish pizza is gross. Really, it is. They start off fairly well, with a nice big, fluffy base, but then they ruin the whole circus by putting about a kilo of cheese on top (Americans please note, a kilo = about 8 quarter pounders, or the amount of sweat emerging from one’s arse during a Spiderman sequel). The resulting sludge pie is completely unappetizing, and barely suitable for feeding to pigs, and only very desperate pigs at that.

In fact, I was so shocked by the amount of cheese on a Pizza Hut pizza that I asked the waitress what the story could possibly be. “Dear waitress,” I said, “whatever is the story with this vile slab of pizza?”

She answered that people in Sweden like it like that, and in fact for many people the cheese is insufficient in quantity, and they order extra mozzarella as a topping. This creates a layer of cheese you could remove and use as a Frisbee, with extra cheese on top. Excuse me, for I must puke.

And then we have the tea. The Swedes, while knowing that such a thing as “tea” exists, still treat it as a kind of witchcraft. Upon asking for tea one encounters the baffling question – “What kind of tea?” The answer I used to give was “just normal tea” but quickly realised that this just gets you a funny look. To the Swedes, there is no “normal” tea, only tea in varying degrees of abnormality.

The Swedes, you see, believe that any and all flavours of tea should have fruit, flowers or funny oils in them. Furthermore, it should be served in a glass, without any discernible handles, and be far too hot to lift. I was served such tea a few weeks ago–the waitress complained “Hell, this is hot” as she “prepared” it for me,  but presented to me anyway as it was, i.e. a glass full of boiling water with the slightest smidgen of tea leaf in it. Here was a glass of beige water that one could not consume without risking third-degree burns–and I still have to remind her to give me some milk with it.

Oddly enough she had a whole rack of coffee mugs in front of her but it did not once occur to her that I might have trouble lifting the boiling hot glass, and would prefer a mug instead. She obviously believed that the pain, and the tragic lack of tea, would suffice to sharpen my mind and complete whatever odd ritual I was pursuing.

Is it like this practically everywhere in Stockholm. Ask for tea, and will you get only a confused look, and some kind of pathetic brew involving hot water and scabby leaves in a little metal scoop without any milk. You would think that, at the very least, the people working in the tourist sector would have figured out what to do by now. But no.

And that old excuse “but we are not a tea-drinking country, you see” used to work, but not any more. It would be like an Irish waitress claiming that she “doesn’t understand this coffee stuff” and delivering to you a boiled turd in a hollowed-out elephant’s foot, along with a little jug full of goat’s semen.

So heed my words, oh tourist brethren – bring your own tea-bags, and wood-fired stove and do it all yourself, because that’s the only way you will get any decent tea, pizza or casual sex in this confused country.

Although I might be mistaken about the casual sex…

/ paddy

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27 thoughts on “Pizza and a Cup of Tea

  1. Haha! Frisbee, indeed!

    I once ordered “unseasoned tea” at the String café in Stockholm. The waitress looked confused and asked, “Yeah but no but yeah but — like, Earl Grey?”.

  2. Martin: I am familiar with this belief that Earl Grey has no seasoning in it. Next time I will bring a picture of a tea plant and say “Just this, dried for a week and hot water, thanks”.

  3. Of course I ask our guests what kind of tea they want. We always have at least five different teas at home, more often seven: normally darjeeling, yunnan, lapsang, keemun, georgian black, nilgiri, and earl grey (my guilty breakfast pleasure). At work I have to bring my own tea because although there are many “tea” drinkers there, they invariably order up infusions of petals, dried berries, and exotic spices. I sometimes open one of those tins, and the smell never fails to bring tears to my eyes. Thank god it’s possible to get PG Tips in Sweden now.

    As with people who drink American standard lager, I ask them: If you don’t like the beverage, why do you insist on drinking it?

  4. Johan: You are a shining example to your countrymen. I have a total of 1 kind of tea at home – PG tips (and sometimes a little Barry’s from Ireland).

    Fruit tea is the work of the devil.

  5. Well, aren’t tea bags kind of sacrilegious for true tea lovers? That’s all the gross “tea” powder no one will buy on it’s own!

  6. Germans have weird habits with tea too – they like to leave the tea bag in and drink it black in all its increasing tannic darkness. Also the concept of tea in a mug has not yet reached these shores. It must always appear in those impossible to hold glasses.

  7. This is useful info, Paddy. I’m an Anglophilic Yank and Americans are not a lot better about tea. “Milk?! You want MILK?! in TEA?!”

    I then inform them that there are a couple entire countries that drink it that way. I also live in the South and hot tea isn’t really done here–it’s all iced tea, which I like fine, but it’s just not the same thing. “Whyyy hunney-darlin’-sweetie-piiiie, whut evah dew yew mean yew don’ wan’ iiiiiiiice teeeeeaaaaa?”

    The first time I went to England and my minimalistic hotel room came equipped with a kettle and PG Tips every morning I knew I had found civilisation.

    Meanwhile, my (English) husband’s family knows we don’t really have PG Tips here so they send over ginormous boxes of the stuff periodically. Brilliant.

  8. Alina: Well yes, I suppose so…I am not a true believer. But bags are just so damned handy.

    Charlotte: Is there any other piping hot beverage served in a glass? Do we get soup in a glass? Hot chocolate? Well maybe hot chocolate.

    lexfoster: Barbarians, that’s all I can say. Iced tea is for wimps. And tea without milk is like…well, rhubarb without custard. Although not many people where I live would agree with me there…

  9. Hooray for PG Tips, Britains no 1 tea!! However, the ladies on your picture must be drinking a different brand as PG Tips did not appear until 1930.

  10. Paddy, the cheesy pizza’s do sound vile.

    As for tea – tea of any sort, whether it be herbal, fruity, medicinal, black, green, white – any tea at all must always, ALWAYS be served in bone china cups. There’s no other way.

  11. Paddy, it’s your (collective you here) fault I take milk in my tea. I never did until the spring of 1986 when I was interrailing in Ireland, and in those days as you may or may not remember, CIE served teabags wilk milk powder in them!

    However, in those days I was also trying to get rid of the habit of sweetening my tea, and as I discovered, the lactose in the milk was just enough so I could stop putting sugar in it. Perfect. I can still drink tea without milk, but since then I prefer the less bitter taste of tea with milk.

  12. Johan: Thankfully I don’t recall that… But it’s true, milk will help the sugar cold-turkey. I gave up sugar in coffee with the help of cafe lattes.

    And welcome to the civilized world – tea with milk is on the same level as building an aqueduct.

  13. You should move to the countryside because out here we´ve never heard about tea in glasses. No no, we stand with both our legs steady on the ground and we use mugs, preferable old ones, and every mug looks different to the other.

  14. ‘It would be like an Irish waitress claiming that she “doesn’t understand this coffee stuff”.’ It’s noticeable that Irish cafes have rebranded all of their coffee with Italian names, so what used to be known as a coffee is now an ‘Americano,’ and is joined on the coffee menu by the espresso, cappucino, caffe latte, and all those other concoctions, but the stuff you actually get served to you in a cup is completely unchanged, and, well, the sort of coffee you might expect to be served in a country that takes its tea really, really seriously. There’s the occasional exception, but generally speaking, Irish people don’t understand coffee. Also (while I’m being difficult here) although iced tea is incomprehensible in a cold country (Lipton tried to sell it to Irish consumers as a canned drink at one point!?), it’s great when you’re hot.

  15. Conor: Actually last summer I got a cappuccino in Dunne Stores in Tralee, and it was actually great. And keep in mind that I am a cappuccino snob. I was so shocked I couldn’t speak.

    Blackout: Start making some sense, man.

  16. Isn’t tea in glasses a Moorish affectation? I had no idea they had gotten so far north. They do coffee that way in Indonesia: two teaspoons of grounds into the bottom of the cup, boiling water on top, and you have to make conversation with the others at the restaurant until it cools down so you can hold it. I think it’s just a complicated way of ensuring that people chat.

    Barry’s tea is brilliant, it must be agreed.

    But god forbid you should ever come to Canada and have Tarte aux Tomates. It consists of a pastry crust, tomato slices, and cheese. Two inches of cheese.

  17. raincoaster: If I wanted 2 inches of cheese then I would just, well…hmmm…now how do I finish this comment…

    Barry’s tea IS rather good though.

  18. Conor, I concur about iced tea being great when you’re hot. And my English husband has taken to loving iced tea. I swear I’m more English than he is now.

    Of course, he’s also forgetting how to spell words the British way. Insert eye-rolling here.

  19. At least now you can get proper teabags at the supermarkets in Stockholm.
    I LOVE the tea-shelf at Vivo Fridhemsplan. Proper tea bags. Almost all you can wish for… (fair trade and all)
    Gone may be the days of old, dull, tasteless Yellow-label tea in tiny, stupid coffe cups (I do prefer a big hot glass to a miniature coffe cup for tea). I hope!
    But there is still room for improvement, I agree…

  20. Vivo: It’s past the bread. Opposite the crackers and hårdbröd…

    Maybe they’ll learn if we bring our own tea cups and instruct them on brewing?
    Shall we start an informal movement of educating café staff ;-)?

  21. Karin: I tried that a few weeks ago – the guy poured in the hot water AND milk together before he even put in the tea. I complained and – guess what – he got angry! And this was the guy who OWNED the café!

  22. Today I was engaged in research concerning the amazing pizza craze in Sweden when I came across your humorous article. Its funny because of the truth of the matter. However, we have a bakery and made several of the more popular Swedish pizzas. They were surprisingly good! There was every possible variety and combination. Many with less cheese and quite healthy. We came to the conclusion the reason Swedes eat so much pizza is their many unique varieties, they are reasonably healthy – they can eat pizza every day and it is still a different dish.

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